God's Ways in Training His Own for His Service and Testimony: 2

 •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The storm sent by God now broke out. It must have been of extraordinary violence, for “the ship was like to be broken.” Even the mariners, accustomed to storms, were frightened and “cast forth the wares that were in the ship, into the sea, to lighten it of them, and cried every man unto his god.”
But where was Jonah? “Gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.” Amidst the storm, when everyone, from the captain down to the cabin boy, is wide awake and astir, the prophet lies fast asleep. And why? His conscience began to awake, and he wanted to sleep it off, and he succeeded. Alas! how deep is the torpor of a conscience lulled to sleep by Satan, the world, and the flesh, be it the conscience of a saint, who has departed from the path of obedience, walking in willful disobedience, or that of a backslider. Only in the latter case his sleep is heavier and deeper and generally of longer duration. That solemn warning of the apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians (chap. v. 14), is addressed to believers, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”
Solemn words these, addressed to Christians, careless Christians! They resemble a man who has laid himself to sleep in a deadhouse among corpses. What a situation to be in! Who but a madman, or a drunkard, would think of laying down to sleep in a deadhouse! The first part of the above solemn call is, “Awake thou that sleepest!
So it was with Jonah. The Gentile captain of the ship must come and rouse him from his sleep with these words, “What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.” What mortifying words addressed by an unconverted man of the world, as happens sometimes, when collaring a Christian out of his sleep? Can there be anything more humbling for a child of God? Alas, to how many a Christian, who has left the path of obedience, to walk in self-will and worldliness, has that solemn call been addressed, “Awake thou that sleepest!”
But like the sluggard, who when roused in the morning, only turns himself upon his side, and soon is faster asleep than before, so have you, poor Christian worldling (what a contradiction in terms!), when half roused from your perilous sleep, but relapsed into a deeper one. You have heeded only the first part of that awakening call, regardless of the second, “Arise from the dead!” Your unwilling ear did not listen to this second clause, and you have relapsed into sleep and slept even faster than before in company of the “dead,” amidst whom you have made your bed.
This reminds me of a most affecting account I read some time ago of the death of a little girl about eight years old. On passing one evening a cemetery she perceived through the railings some pretty flowers on some of the graves. She wanted to take a few of them. The gate being open, she entered and picked them, but in taking them she was caught by the sexton. Several graves having been lately despoiled of their floral ornaments, for whose preservation the sexton was responsible, the wretched man determined this time to inflict exemplary punishment. He seized the poor crying little maid, and dragged her into the deadhouse, where several dead bodies were lying, and locked her in, intending to leave her there for an hour. He then returned to his work. Being very busy that evening, and having several calls to attend to, he returned home late, and worn out and tired soon went to sleep, having entirely forgotten his prisoner in the deadhouse. In the morning he suddenly bethought himself of the poor victim of his cruelty. Terrified he hastened to the deadhouse and opened the door. But what a sight presented itself to the wretched man! The number of the dead bodies had increased by one! Cowering down in the farthest corner sat the poor little maid—dead. Her lovely childish little face was distorted with terror. In her lap lay still the small nosegay, culled from the grave. The cold, the atmosphere of death and corruption, and above all the fright at the presence of the corpses, had soon put an end to her young existence. When the inhuman perpetrator of that barbarous deed was taken to prison, the numerous police were scarce able to prevent his being lynched by the furious crowd.
I have not mentioned this terrible incident, to produce a sensational impression upon the Christian readers of these pages, which would be neither profitable nor edifying for them. But should there be even one amongst them who has practically forgotten the purification of his sins, and gone to sleep in the deadhouse of the world, perhaps the sad incident mentioned above may be to him a serious warning in its proper application. Poor, thrice unhappy, worldly-minded child of God! You are in a far more terrible position than the poor little maid just spoken of. She knew but too well in what place and company she was—in the deadhouse amongst corpses. But you scarcely appear to be conscious that you are in the same place and company, only spiritually, which certainly does not improve either the place or the company. She felt the terrible atmosphere of death and corruption in that dead-house! But to you, that pestilential savor of death, stifling the spiritual life, has become your natural atmosphere. She, poor little captive, felt the darkness of that terrible night there without a morning. The silence of death was awful to her, and the least noise in that chamber of the dead would have frightened her still more, unless it had been the noise of approaching footsteps without. Oh, how the poor little captive at such a sound would have sped towards the door, calling out for deliverance. And if the door had been opened, would she have delayed a moment longer in her terrible prison? No; with winged steps she would have fled from the pestiferous cage of death into the fresh open air, thanking God for her deliverance from that terrible abode.
But you, poor unhappy strayer from the grace of God and of His Christ, have settled down in this world, where everything bears the stamp of sin and death, and made your bed with the “dead in trespasses and sins.” Instead of going into the world, whither the Lord has sent you, as the Father sent Him into it, a faithful witness of the truth, and carrying with you the savor of the gospel of life and peace for your fellowmen, you have embarked with the world, whose friendship is enmity against God, in the way of disobedience. You have forgotten that the cross of Christ which has removed every barrier between God and you, ought to be an everlasting barrier between the world and you, the world being by it crucified unto you, and you unto the world. Like Jonah you have gone into the sides of the ship to sleep off the storm—the trouble of your conscience. Beware, Christian worldling! God does not always send an outward storm, as in the case of Jonah. Do not close your ears and heart to the voice of God, which not only “is mighty upon the waters,” but speaks mightily to the conscience and heart, by His Spirit and word, lest you should fare like some of those at Corinth, who, from their spiritual sleep fell into the sleep of death. It is indeed “far better to depart and to be with Christ,” but it is sad, very sad, to “fall in the wilderness” by God's chastening hand. To be called home in such a way, cut off like a barren fruitless branch, is a sad way of going home.
“Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and. Christ shall give thee light.” That is, awake, rise and open the shutters of your dark chamber of death-like sleep, that the sun may shine in, and Christ give you light. And should there be in your heart some secret idol-chamber—be it love of money, or worldliness, or something else which has slipped in between Christ and you, and taken His place in your heart—open the door and let the light of Christ and His word shine in and expose the idol in all its hideousness, and in the morning light of our good Shepherd's restoring grace, Dagon's stump and members will be seen scattered about. Your eye being light again and single, set on Christ, your whole body will be light, and your heart shall bask in the sunshine of the love of the Father and of the Son, in the power of His Spirit no longer grieved, Who glorifies Christ, receives of His and shows it unto us.
It was not so with Jonah. The storm and the Gentile shipmaster had shaken him out of his sleep, but his conscience had not yet been fully roused. For this something more was needed. Even these Gentile mariners appear to have recognized the extraordinary character of that storm. They felt that a higher hand was here at work, to reach some unknown sinner sheltered by them. They therefore cast lots to learn for whose sake that disastrous tempest had come upon them. Instead of finding an Achan in the camp, we have a Jonah in the ship. And as in the former case, so here the lot fell upon the right man—Jonah. Now his conscience, as well as his body, is fully awake. At the question, “Tell us, we pray thee, for whose sake this evil is upon us? What is thine occupation, and whence comest thou? What is thy country, and of what people art thou?” he answers, “I am an Hebrew; and I fear Jehovah, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land,” and confesses to them his sinful and vain endeavor to flee from the presence of the Lord. Even the Gentile mariners see the folly of Jonah's attempt to flee from the presence of his God, and the prophet has to listen to the humbling question, “Why hast thou done this?”
But God's purpose had not yet been reached by the prophet's confession, wrung from him by the convicting lot. Jonah must be sent to his destination in the belly of the fish at the bottom of the sea, there to learn in God's house of correction, what God would teach him. The storm of the sea continued to rage, and the terrified mariners ask Jonah, “What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm onto us?” Jonah now submitted to the mighty hand of God. Whatever may have been his other personal shortcomings, he was no coward. He tells them, “Take me up and cast me forth into the sea, so shall the sea be calm unto you; for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.”
We now come to a lovely feature of these Gentile mariners. Although they owed to Jonah all their trouble and distress, and even the loss of the whole cargo, as well as their evident jeopardy, they nevertheless hesitate till the last moment to avail themselves of the only means, indicated by the prophet himself, of saving them, by throwing Jonah overboard. “Nevertheless they rowed hard to bring the ship to the land.”
How many Christian mariners in the ecclesiastical barge might take a leaf from the book of these rough Gentile sailors, in cases where there is—we do not say, an Achan in the camp, but—a Jonah in the ship! Hear we not in such cases but too often the cry, “Overboard with him?” “Let us throw him into the sea, that the sea may be calm unto us” is, when translated into church language, “Let us excommunicate him, that we may be no longer troubled.” Such oarsmen will flatter themselves in vain with the hope that, after Jonah's ejection from the ship, the sea will be calm unto them. Generally just the opposite will occur; nay, it often happens, that not the one who was believed to be the “Jonah in the ship,” but one or some of these unhesitating mariners get somehow into the fish's belly, and to the bottom of the sea, in order to learn there the lessons which they had thought to be reserved for Jonah.
These honest and gracious Gentile mariners endeavored, if possible, to save Jonah, and the ship, and themselves. But their efforts, however well-meant, were in vain. God's wise, holy, and gracious will and purpose as to His prophet must be accomplished. But these mariners—we can hardly call them any longer unconverted—did not proceed with the execution of the prophet's own behest, till they had bowed down before Jehovah for what they were about to do to His prophet. How beautiful and instructive is their short prayer: “We beseech Thee, Jehovah, we beseech Thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for Thou, Jehovah, path done as it pleased Thee.” They then take Jonah and throw him into the sea. Immediately the storm ceases, and the sea becomes calm. “Then the men feared Jehovah exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto Jehovah, and made vows.” The “voice of the Lord upon the waters” had not only spoken to Jonah, but also to the Gentile mariners, who, like the Thessalonians of a later day, “turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God.” They were thus a type of the Gentiles, who, after the tempest of “Jacob's trouble” is over, shall turn to God.
“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
But before entering upon the next chapter, let us pause a few moments to consider One greater than Jonah, even Jesus—likewise “during the storm.”
(Continued from page 166.)